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Costa Rica pursues carbon neutrality by 2021

Following the abolition of its army in the late 1940s, Costa Rica has been able to invest large portions of its budget into social programs. These programs include free education, free health care, the advancement of hydropower, national park preservation, reversing deforestation, promoting ecotourism, and most recently the production of clean energy. With 2021 quickly approaching, the Costa Rican government is looking towards carbon neutrality as its next feat. 

Sustainable Energy

This volcano in Costa Rica provides geothermal energy (Source Flickr/Arturo Sotillo)
This volcano in Costa Rica provides geothermal energy (Source Flickr/Arturo Sotillo)

Since 2015, 98.53% of electricity consumed in Costa Rica has come from renewable sources. Costa Rica’s rainstorms, access to the ocean, hurricanes, tropical storms, volcanoes, and equatorial location provide the country with its abundance of sustainable energy. Today, 78.26% of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from water energy, 10.29% comes from wind, 10.23% comes from geothermal, and 0.84% comes from solar and biomass. Recently, Costa Rica has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the construction of geothermal power plants and hydroelectric plants. However, these advancements only apply to electricity. Fossil fuels are still used for transportation and heating, sectors that make up 70% of Costa Rica’s total energy consumption. In their pursuit of carbon neutrality, Costa Rica is taking steps to decrease their use of fossil fuels.  

Becoming Carbon Neutral

In order to decrease their environmental footprint, Costa Rica has set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2021. To do so, Costa Rica will need to drastically decrease its oil consumption. Like many other countries, Costa Rica’s transportation system is currently dependent on fossil fuels, but with a transformation of this system so that cars, buses, and trains are powered by renewable electricity, its goal of carbon neutrality appears to be attainable. Currently, electric powered vehicles are more expensive than their gas powered counterparts, but by 2022 the two are expected to have the same cost. Fortunately, a precedent has been set as cities all over the world are experimenting with variations of electric powered buses and trains.

A train powered by fossil fuels in Costa Rica (Source Wikimedia Commons/Haakon S. Krohn)
A train powered by fossil fuels in Costa Rica (Source Wikimedia Commons/Haakon S. Krohn)

Although Costa Rica hopes to drastically decrease its use of fossil fuels, a ban on these resources is not in plan. Instead, the Costa Rican government plans to slowly phase out the use of fossil fuels through the implementation of new policies and incentives that will decrease the need for this type of energy. Additionally, the Costa Rican government does not need to ban fossil fuels in order to attain its goal of carbon neutrality as long as the greenhouse gases created from the combustion of fossil fuels are offset by actions including reforestation or increasing the quality of land management. 

The current Costa Rican government is taking numerous steps towards reaching its goal of carbon neutrality by 2021. Recently, a law was created that requires a minimum of 10 percent of government-owned transportation vehicles to be traded out for vehicles that are powered by renewable electricity. Although the implementation of this law is taking time, its impact will play a huge role in achieving carbon neutrality in Costa Rica. An initiative to electrify buses has also been created, however, its implementation will take time as well. Meanwhile, testing has begun on three bus lines that are fueled solely by renewable electricity. In addition, the government plans to initiate the use of electric trains. Besides transportation, a law has also been drafted that will eliminate drilling and exploiting fossil fuels in Costa Rica. 

Lessons for Other Nations

Costa Rica’s progress towards carbon neutrality is influenced by many factors. Costa Rica’s abolition of its army allowed the government to put more money towards initiatives that increase carbon neutrality. Costa Rica’s geography provides the country with bountiful resources for renewable energy production. A small population of around 5 million people means that Costa Rica requires a relatively small amount of electricity to power the country.

For these reasons, carbon neutrality and the use of sustainable energy is more attainable for Costa Rica than it would be for many other countries. Many countries allocate large portions of their budgets towards defense and the military, decreasing the money available to be spent on carbon neutrality initiatives. Many countries also lack the sources of energy that fuel Costa Rica, such as active geology, the ocean, tropical storms, and large amounts of direct sun. In addition, larger countries require more energy in order to meet the needs of their large populations. Meeting these large energy needs would be difficult for countries that lack access to the previously listed sources of energy.

Although carbon neutrality may be more difficult for other countries to attain, it is not impossible. Costa Rica has a desire to become carbon neutral, which many countries do not have. Without this desire, the factors that work in their favor would not be capitalized on and Costa Rica would not be taking large steps towards becoming one of the first countries to become carbon neutral.

Sources and Further Reading

Costa Rica: World Power in Renewable Energy – Costa Rica News

Costa Rica has Run on 100% Renewable Energy for 299 Days – Under 30 Experiences

A Small Country with Big Ideas to Get Rid of Fossil Fuels – TEDSummit

Costa Rica has an Ambitious New Climate Policy – VOX

Electric and Empowered: Monica Araya on Costa Rica’s Clean Energy Future – TEDBlog